Denominations or Associations? (A review)
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for Topic Importance and Relevance
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for Strength of Arguments
⭐️⭐️ for Layperson Accessibility
“What is the Biblical paradigm for inter-church fellowship?” “Does independence and autonomy exclude Baptist churches from association of any kind?” “Is casual fellowship or informal association between churches sufficient to fulfill the Biblical requirements for churches one to another?” Five Reformed Baptist pastors, one of them a widely recognized scholar of the 17th century, tackle these questions and more in “Denominations or Associations?” examining both Biblical and historical example, comparing their combined portrait with our own status quo.
In all honesty, if this book had not been highly recommended to me and had I not had opportunity to meet a couple of the authors prior to reading the book, I would have given up reading on the first page. It was stiff, intimidating and assumed a knowledge-base and deep interest in Associational history I didn’t yet have. The arguments were well made and well supported but to be frank, 95% of the time I was convinced of the arguments with far less evidence and found the remaining support excessive and tedious.
I recognize that I was not the intended audience for this book. The book is written by pastors to other pastors, with an emphasis on scholarly, historical and confessional analysis for the purpose of encouraging these pastors to lead their churches into an association.
However, I think that this topic is also important for the layperson, for the consideration of the average church member. As is clearly articulated in this book, associations are tangible manifestations of the church universal. There is a temptation for both individuals and individual churches to become isolated in their own local ministry, forgetting the big picture and either becoming discouraged or unduly proud of their labors.
A grass-roots level support of associations will encourage church members to look to their own pastors and those within the association for primary teaching and conferences rather than continually depending on men (and women!) who are not affiliated with any church and are unsent and unqualified to teach the scriptures and are the source of great and frequent grief to faithful pastors.
A robust appreciation for formal association with other churches would encourage church members to look to and support their own church in teaching, missions and ministry rather than spend so much time and resources engaging in parachurch ministries whose theology and practices are often questionable and more importantly, are not charged with the Great Commission as the church is, thereby often robbing the church of her greatest gifts and support, disbanding and dividing the attention and affections of her members, severing the various parts of the body of Christ into an unidentifiable mass, strangling the trumpeter so that it blows an uncertain sound, estranging soldiers to enter combat unarmed and alone, a mockery of a witness for the world’s watching eyes.
Additionally, the only way for an association of the depth this book describes to work is for an entire church to be on board, to support their pastor’s time away developing relationships with other pastors, to be willing to support an association financially, and to joyfully bring the prayer requests of other churches into their own homes.
And I could list many more reasons why I am convinced it is vital for these ideas to reach the entire congregation. I think a book on associations for the layperson is desperately needed and I earnestly desire to see one in print. Perhaps Pastor Dykstra could expand his essay to a short pamphlet. I would buy a stack!
In the meantime, I would recommend to the layperson starting with Pastor Dykstra’s essay at the end, followed by Pastor Earl Blackburn’s essay, then if you’re up to it, plodding through the rest of the book.